Facebook suspends MWC plans due to coronavirus risk


Facebook is out of MWC.

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook is the latest company to withdraw from MWC in Barcelona later this month due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. It joins a growing list of companies — including Sony, Amazon, Intel, Ericsson, LG and Nvidia — deciding that the risks of attending the mobile trade show outweigh the benefits.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Facebook employees won’t be attending this year’s Mobile World Congress due to the evolving public health risks related to coronavirus,” a company spokesman said Tuesday in a statement. “We will continue to collaborate with the GSMA and our partners and thank them for their efforts.”

Mobile World Congress 2020 is scheduled to run Feb. 24 through Feb. 27. The outbreak of coronavirus is currently the dominant topic of conversation around the mobile show. Normally, innovations like foldable phones and 5G would be on people’s minds.

First disclosed in late December, the coronavirus has infected over 42,000 people and killed over 1,000 as of Tuesday. As a results, companies such as Apple, Google and Nintendo have closed offices, limited business travel and faced supply chain disruptions.

The GSMA, the organization that runs MWC, said it will have additional medical personnel onsite. On Sunday, it banned any travelers from China’s Hubei province, where the coronavirus outbreak began. MWC will also require attendees who have passed through China to show proof they have been outside the country for 14 days. It will also put in place several other measures to reduce the risks posed by the coronavirus, including a temperature checks and a no-handshake policy. 

In spite of assurances from the GSMA, many companies have decided it’s not worth risking the health of their employees to attend.

In the past, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been a popular keynote speaker at the show, although it’s been several years since he last attended and he wasn’t scheduled to appear this year. Facebook’s presence at MWC is usually small and focused on engineering and infrastructure projects designed to improve connectivity in rural areas and developing countries. Unlike many big companies attending the show, MWC doesn’t serve as a platform for Facebook to announce flagship products.

Many of the companies due to make announcements at the show — including those still planning to attend — are now scheduling their own separate launch events instead of holding press conferences in Barcelona. Sony is planning to livestream the launch of its Xperia phone over YouTube, while Ericsson will hold local Unboxed events to discuss the announcements it would have made at the show.

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